Who Gets To Call It Art?

Peter Rosen's fizzy, poppy gloss on the career of Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler (1935-1994), whose owlish looks belied a keen sensibility and adventurous spirit that helped make the careers of multiple generations of post-World War II American artists. Born into a conservative family of wealthy diamond dealers from Belgium, the Yale-educated...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Peter Rosen's fizzy, poppy gloss on the career of Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler (1935-1994), whose owlish looks belied a keen sensibility and adventurous spirit that helped make the careers of multiple generations of post-World War II American artists. Born into a conservative family of wealthy diamond dealers from Belgium, the Yale-educated Geldzahler used his bar mitzvah money to buy works by Frank Stella and Larry Poons. Offered a job as a curatorial assistant at the Met, New York's staid repository of classical art, Geldzahler replied that he'd rather work at the more forward-thinking Whitney. But he reconsidered and remade the job to suit his own interests, prowling downtown galleries, visiting artists in their studios, attending happenings and working parties. When the Met's receptionist asked Geldzahler why his phone was always ringing, he replied, "All my artists are alive." "He lived with us," recalls Stella, and the artists whose work he championed — including David Hockney, James Rosenquist, Robert Rauschenberg and George Segal — responded by painting, sculpting, drawing and filming him. Geldzahler championed the pioneers of the pop-art movement — he was especially close to Andy Warhol — and in 1969 he curated the groundbreaking "New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970," which filled 35 of the Metropolitan Museum's spacious galleries with more than 400 pieces by 43 artists and became infamous simply as "Henry's Show." Geldzahler left the Met in the 1980s to become commissioner of cultural affairs under Mayor Ed Koch, and to the end of his life was cultivating yet another crop of artists, including Francesco Clemente, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Rosen's romp through Geldzhaler's life and times is compulsively watchable — a breezy collage of modern-day interviews, archival footage and zippy visual effects. But the film's flippant style ultimately undermines its material — Rosen's decision not to immediately identify interviewees is especially irritating — and, ironically, makes the American art scene of the '60s appear as shallow and trendy as its detractors always claimed it was.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Peter Rosen's fizzy, poppy gloss on the career of Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler (1935-1994), whose owlish looks belied a keen sensibility and adventurous spirit that helped make the careers of multiple generations of post-World War II… (more)

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